Jerry States His Case

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

History was made earlier today in Sacramento, when California Gov. Jerry Brown delivered the annual State of the State Address.  Brown, the Golden State’s oldest and longest-tenured chief executive, passed the late Earl Warren as the California governor to deliver the most such addresses to a joint session of the State Legislature.

Some takeaways from the 17-minute speech (click here to read the as-prepared version):

Dress Rehearsal. At times, Brown sounded like a governor who’d like to deliver four more such speeches, returning to themes that got him elected in 2010. That included, first and foremost, fiscal caution. The governor warned lawmakers in attendance not to go on a spending jag – as is their want and tradition in times of surplus – invoking George Santayana ("those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”) and his dog Sutter (Brown pulled out a deck of playing cards, one of which featured California’s First Dog – “bark if you don’t like deficits”). And you thought prop comedy died with Gallagher in the recall election.

Magic Act. David Copperfield’s not the only one who can make a train disappear. Noticeably absent from Brown’s remarks: a spirited defense of high-speed rail (also missing: an income inequality/class warfare argument that President Obama will drive home in his State of the Union Address). Another bullet the governor chose to dodge: California’s massive teacher-pension liability. One assumed that Brown was going down the rail track when he segued from drought to climate change to too many Californians burning up too much fuel. But he didn’t. The guess here: Brown wanted to set the bar at fiscal restraint, first-term accomplishments and leave the conversation about high-speed rail and other conundrums for another day.

Tough Crowd: Before Brown’s address, there was Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – both introducing the governor but also trying out themes of his own for a future higher-office run (either replacing Brown, or a U.S. Senate run in 2016 or 2018). At times, the former San Francisco mayor sounded a little too “415”, far too smitten with the wonders of modern-day technology. But he also struck a less coastal-blue tone, telling lawmakers that “you cannot be pro-jobs and anti-business”. Which was met with the sounds of . . . silence from an audience that, for the most part, doesn’t get the nexus of a favorable economic climate and a reliable revenue stream.

Thin Skin. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Gov. Brown took swipes at unnamed critics who suggested the State of the State is an outdated beast. That would be the columnist Joe Matthews, who recently wrote that Brown should trade in the big speech for non-Sacramento town halls. I’m also of the opinion that the State of the State doesn’t work – not in the current Sacramento environment in which there’s little in the way of an adversarial relationship between the two branches of state government and little interest on the governor’s part to use the speech to break news (witness: his web site didn’t showcase the fact that there was a speech today until moments before it was delivered).

Will that be the case a year from a now? For the matter, will Brown be the done giving the address in 2015?

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen